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From Clay to Kiln: The Slow Birth of a Plate

In a world where fashions are fleeting and connection is measured in signal strength, the slow, purposeful process of handcrafting a plate – from inspiration in nature, to clay to kiln – is a meditation in thoughtful, considered craft.

Inspiration

Each collection starts in nature. I find inspiration walking among wild grasses on the South Downs, swimming on Brighton’s pebbled beach or when I escape the city for an off-grid camping trip. I let these images evolve in my mind as I sketch and scrawl.

Lino Cutting

The next step is an exercise in mark making. Once I’ve settled on a design I like, I transfer it onto a linoleum block, which I’ll score with lino-cutting tools. It’s a bit like being a sculptor; you have to think in reverse – the material you take a way is what will be raised in the final ceramic piece.

Printing

What’s great about lino cuttings is that they can be reborn in several mediums. The way a design might look when pressed into clay has a very different feel to its paper counterpart. I often like to pair them together in a room.

Rolling and drying

The clay is flattened either by hand or machine – if I’m doing it by hand I’ll use small pieces of wood to guide the thickness. Nobody wants an uneven plate. This done, I’ll leave aside to dry, just a little.

Clay printing

Using the same lino I made in step two, I’ll lay the block – cut side down – over the flattened clay. I press the lino into the clay, using a hand roller to make sure the pressure is even, and to pick up even the most intricate mark. The feeling of peeling back the lino to see my print in clay never gets old.

Moulding

Once printed with its design – whether that’s the Wanderlust, Geoffrey, Wild Oat or Tulip collection – the slap is laid over a plaster mould to form the shape of the plate. After it’s firmed up a bit, I’ll remove the moulded clay and clean up the rim of the plate to make a nice smooth edge.

Drying

Drying is one of the most variable stages of the ceramics-making process. Depending on the weather, this can take anywhere between a day and a week. What’s important is making sure it dries evenly, so the plate doesn’t warp. It needs to be bone-dry before it goes in the kiln; too wet and it will crack.

First firing

Up until this point, the clay is a reusable material. If I were to put it back into water, it would eventually return to the material I started with in step four. But this piece of clay was born to be a plate. It goes into the kiln up to  950°C, which vitrifies the clay and turns it into pottery. This little hare is my kiln god; he stands on the kiln and prevents anything from breaking – fingers crossed.

Glazing

Out of the kiln, the plate is now known as bique, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s unglazed pottery. If you run your hand over it, it feels rough and porous – the perfect texture for holding a glaze. It takes a lot of time and experimentation to get the colours of glazes just right. This plate is going to be XX, which I made from XXX.

Second firing

Once the glaze has been poured over the plate, it’s back into the kiln for a second firing, this time to a higher temperature of 1240°C. My trusty kiln god is watching over as always.

Dinner time

And that’s it, the slow journey of a plate, from clay to kiln, and ready to go to your kitchen.

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